Consider the results under Rafa ‘Can’t Leave Fast Enough’ Benitez, boss from 2004-2005 through 2009-2010.
- 2004/05: Won the Champions League but finished fifth in the Premier League and needed a rule change in order to defend that trophy
- 2005/06: Won the FA Cup, third place domestically
- 2006/07: Lost the Champions League return match to Milan in his third, third place domestically
- 2007/08: Fourth in the EPL, lost in the quarterfinals in the CL
- 2008/09: Rose to second domestically and could have won the league but for a couple of games in which late equalizers were surrendered
- 2009/10: Seventh in the EPL, didn’t get out of the Champions League group stage
Many of my fellow Kopites have criticized the team’s owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, for the downward velocity but I don’t count myself among them because as far as I’m concerned they gave Benitez plenty of purse. Not at the level of Chelsea, Real Madrid and, most recently, Manchester City bottomless pits but enough; certainly competitive with Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United.
Who did Rafa buy? Sure Fernando Torres, Pepe Reina, Martin Škrtel and Dirk Kuyt have been value for money but tell me these players were worth their fees:
- Alberto Aquilani (nearly $30M)
- Ryan Babel (~$20M)
- Glenn Johnson (nearly $30M)
- Robbie Keane (well over $30M)
- Albert Riera (~$15M)
- Philipp Degen (free, but took a roster spot and contributed less than his fee!)
- Andrey Voronin (on a Free, but he flattered to deceive)
- Jermaine Pennant (~$10M)
- Luis Garcia (~$10M)
- Florent Sinama-Pongolle (~$5M, sold on for a small loss)
- Anthony Le Tallec (~$5M)
- Fernando Morientes (~$10M)
- Momo Sissoko (~$9M, though at least we got a decent fee (~$5M profit) from Juventus in turn)
- Mark Gonzalez (~$3M, not much but wasted a winger spot on the roster)
And why were these players sold?
- John Arne Riise, who is still doing the business at Roma
- Peter Crouch, who has never been replaced as a target forward
- Danny Guthrie/Stephen Warnock: one would have been a good replacement for Riise
- Yossi Benayoun: if Chelsea were willing to pay so much for him why would we let him go? He even said the only reason he wanted to leave was being fed up with Rafa.
Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano were both very good buys, no doubt, but Xabi was poorly used his last season or two in the squad. Masch, in contrast to Benayoun, left because he is so enamored of the former bossman he couldn’t bear to be apart.
Robbie Keane should have been a great buy. He wanted to come, from what I read he felt his run at Tottenham had reached a natural conclusion, but Rafa could never get him settled and had to sell him back to Spurs for a $5 million loss after half the season.
Glen Johnson might be a controversial inclusion on the bad buy list–he is a solid first choice for the English national team–and in the long run he may turn out well but (a) at the time of his purchase he had a serious knee injury and (b) his fee was almost $30 million!
In other years Johnson’s knee may not have been the negative it was last season but when you add in the games Stephen Gerrard, Mascherano and Torres missed from injury and other causes it was killer. Riera and Aquilani were not adequate substitutes in the least.
Beyond the player transfer dealings I think that Rafa had a tough time setting a consistent formation and one that suited his available talent. He was just too stubborn about it.
Roy Hodgson arrived late and might not be starting well. One win from six, crashed out of the Carling Cup to a fourth tier team, well, I’m not optimistic about getting back to the top four after 38 games. But I’m not ready to call Martin O’Neill just yet.
Bottom line for me is that Rafa Benitez made more bad buys than good and to a large degree lost the dressing room. Hicks and Gillett may indeed need to go, as my Twitter pal NYLiverBull frequently writes but I cannot see the recent years as down to a lack of transfer money.